Fire on riverboat leaves more than 1,000 dead

Fire on riverboat leaves more than 1,000 dead

More than 1,000 people taking a pleasure trip on New York City’s East River are drowned or burned to death when a fire sweeps through the boat. This was one of the United States’ worst maritime disasters.

The riverboat-style steamer General Slocum was built in 1890 and used mostly as a vehicle for taking large groups on day outings. On June 15, the St. Mark’s German Lutheran Church assembled a group of 1,360 people, mostly children and teachers, for their annual Sunday School picnic. The picnic was to take place at Locust Point in the Bronx after a cruise up the East River on the General Slocum.

At about 9 a.m., the dangerously overcrowded boat left its dock in Manhattan with Captain William Van Schaik in charge. As the boat passed 83rd Street, accounts indicate that a child spotted a fire in a storeroom and reported it to Captain Van Schaik. Reportedly the captain responded, “Shut up and mind your own business.” But as the smoke became more obvious, crew members were sent to investigate. By this time, the storeroom, filled with a combination of oil and excelsior (wood shavings used for packing), was blazing out of control. The onboard fire hose, which had never been used, tested or inspected, did not work.

Captain Van Schaik made a fateful decision at this time. Instead of directing the boat to the nearest dock where firefighters could engage the fire, he pointed the boat toward a small island in the East River. He later told investigators that he did not want to risk spreading the fire to the dock and the rest of the city, but the strategy proved deadly for the passengers. Instead of grounding the boat on the sand, the boat crashed onto the rocks of the island’s shore.

At this point, other factors also combined to exacerbate the situation. The lifeboats were so firmly tied to the steamer that they could not be released. The life preservers had not been filled with cork, but a non-buoyant material that made them weighty. The children who used them sank to the bottom of the river. Other children were trampled to death in the panic. More people were killed when the raging fire collapsed some of the decks, plunging them into the fire.

In all, 630 bodies were recovered and another 401 were missing and presumed dead. A cannon was brought to the scene and fired over the river the next day to loosen bodies from the river mud. The boat’s crew, and officers in the Knickerbocker Company, owner and operator of the General Slocum, were charged with criminal negligence. However, only Captain Van Schaik received a prison sentence. He was supposed to serve 10 years, but was pardoned due to old age in 1908. President Theodore Roosevelt fired the chief inspector of the U. S. Steamboat Inspection Service in the aftermath of the accident; wholesale changes in the industry followed. A mass grave was set up in Queens for the victims and a yearly memorial was held to honor their memory.


Great Hinckley Fire

The Great Hinckley Fire was a conflagration in the pine forests of the U.S. state of Minnesota in September 1894, which burned an area of at least 200,000 acres (810 km 2 310 sq mi) [1] (perhaps more than 250,000 acres [1,000 km 2 390 sq mi]), including the town of Hinckley. The official death count was 418 the actual number of fatalities was likely higher. [2] Other sources put the death toll at 476. [3]

Great Hinckley Fire
LocationPine County, near Hinckley, Minnesota
Statistics
Date(s)September 1, 1894 to September 6, 1894
3:00 p.m. (CDT)
Burned area200,000 acres (810 km 2 )
CauseDrought
Land useLogging
Deaths418+

After a two-month summer drought, combined with very high temperatures, several small fires started in the pine forests of Pine County, Minnesota. The fires' spread apparently was due to the then-common method of lumber harvesting, wherein trees were stripped of their branches in place these branches littered the ground with flammable debris. Also contributing was a temperature inversion that trapped the gases from the fires. The scattered blazes united into a firestorm. [4] The temperature rose to at least 2,000 °F (1,100 °C). Barrels of nails melted into one mass, and in the yards of the Eastern Minnesota Railroad, the wheels of the cars fused with the rails. [5] Some residents escaped by climbing into wells, ponds, or the Grindstone River. Others clambered aboard two crowded trains that pulled out of the threatened town minutes ahead of the fire.

James Root, an engineer on a train heading south from Duluth, rescued nearly 300 people by backing up a train nearly five miles to Skunk Lake, where the passengers escaped the fire. William Best was an engineer on a train sent specifically to evacuate people. [6] [7]

Because of the dryness of the summer, fires were common in the woods, along railroad tracks and in logging camps where loggers would set fire to their slash to clean up the area before moving on. Some loggers, of course left their debris behind, giving any fire more fuel on which to grow. Saturday, September 1st, 1894 began as another oppressively hot day with fires surrounding the towns and two major fires that were burning about five miles (8 km) to the south. To add to the problem, the temperature inversion that day added to the heat, smoke and gases being held down by the huge layer of cool air above. The two fires managed to join together to make one large fire with flames that licked through the inversion finding the cool air above. That air came rushing down into the fires to create a vortex or tornado of flames which then began to move quickly and grew larger and larger turning into a fierce firestorm. The fire first destroyed the towns of Mission Creek and Brook Park before coming into the town of Hinckley. When it was over the Firestorm had completely destroyed six towns, and over 400 square miles (1,000 km 2 ) lay black and smoldering. The firestorm was so devastating that it lasted only four hours but destroyed everything in its path. [8]

The fire destroyed the town of Hinckley (which at the time had a population of over 1,400) as well as the smaller nearby settlements of Mission Creek, Brook Park, Sandstone, Miller, Partridge and Pokegama. [2]

The exact number of fatalities is difficult to determine. The official coroner's report counted 413 dead while the fire's official monument notes 418. [2] [9] An unknown number of Native Americans and backcountry dwellers were also killed in the fire bodies continued to be found years later. [10] [11] Along with the 1918 Cloquet Fire (where 453 were killed) it is one of the deadliest in Minnesota history.

Today, a 37-mile (60 km) section of the Willard Munger State Trail, from Hinckley to Barnum, is a memorial to the fire and the devastation it caused. In the town of Hinckley, on Highway 61, the Hinckley Fire Museum is located in the former Northern Pacific Railway depot. It is located a few feet north of the former depot, which burned down in the fire. It is open from May 1 until the end of October. [12]

Lutheran Memorial Cemetery in Hinckley has a historical marker and granite obelisk as a memorial to those who perished in the fire. 248 residents of Hinckley perished in the fire and are buried in a mass grave at this cemetery. Some are unidentified.

The Brook Park Cemetery on County Road 126, south of Minnesota State Highway 23, has an historical marker plaque and a memorial to the 23 fire victims of Brook Park, with a tall obelisk on top of a granite marker. [13]

Thomas P. "Boston" Corbett, the Union soldier who killed John Wilkes Booth after Booth's assassination of Abraham Lincoln, is presumed to have died in the fire. His last known residence is believed to have been a forest settlement near Hinckley, and a "Thomas Corbett" is listed as one of the dead or missing. [14] [15] [16] [17]


Ignition

Afternoon thunderstorms that release little precipitation occur frequently in the northern Rockies. Yellowstone receives thousands of lightning strikes in a typical summer, but most do not result in fires. A snag may smolder for several days and then burn out because fuels are too moist to sustain combustion or too sparse to allow the fire to spread. Most of the park’s forests have few shrubs understory fuels are predominantly young trees. The moisture content of both live and dead vegetation tends to drop as summer progresses, temperatures increase, and relative humidity decreases. Fuels have often dried out enough to ignite the first wildfire of the year by July.

A forested area that has burned recently enough to contain only young stands of trees usually doesn’t have enough combustible fuel to carry a fire, except under extreme weather and climate conditions. But as the years pass, trees that don’t survive the competition for light and other resources die and eventually fall over. On living trees, older branches die and fall off as they are shaded by new foliage growing above. As a stand grows older and taller, the canopy becomes more broken. This allows enough light to reach the forest floor for a shade-tolerant understory to be established. The accumulation of fuel on the forest floor and the continuity of fuels among the ground, understory, and canopy make older stands more vulnerable to fire. Some forests in Yellowstone may not have burned in at least 300 years and may be particularly prone to lightning ignition.

Of the fires that occur in Yellowstone, 75% are less than 0.25 acres and another 13% range from 0.3 to 9.9 acres. These smaller, less intense fires play a role in this ecosystem by helping to thin out smaller trees and brush and boost the decay process that provides nutrients to the soil.

Contents

The Cocoanut Grove had opened in 1927 as a speakeasy during Prohibition as a partnership between two orchestra leaders, Mickey Alpert and Jacques Renard. (Although neither held an interest in the club by 1942, Alpert was leading the house band on the night of the fire). It was located at 17 Piedmont Street, in the Bay Village neighborhood of Boston, a few blocks south of the Boston Public Garden. Alpert and Renard's mob-connected financiers gained control and opened a speakeasy on the premises, and it gained a reputation for being a gangland hangout. It spanned from Piedmont Street to Shawmut Street.

Gangland boss and bootlegger Charles "King" Solomon, also known as "Boston Charlie", owned the club from 1931 to January 24, 1933, when he was gunned down in the men's room of Roxbury's Cotton Club nightclub. [1] [2] Ownership passed to Solomon's lawyer Barnet "Barney" Welansky, [2] who sought a more mainstream image for the club while he privately boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin. Welansky was known to be a tough boss who ran a tight ship: hiring teenagers to work as busboys for low wages, and street thugs who doubled as waiters and bouncers. He locked exits, concealed others with draperies, and even bricked up one emergency exit to prevent customers from leaving without paying. [3] Coincidentally, on the night of the fire, Welansky was still recovering from a heart attack in a private room at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where some of the victims would be sent.

Originally a garage and warehouse complex, the brick and concrete buildings had been converted to a one-and-a-half-story meandering complex of dining rooms, bars, and lounges. A new lounge in an adjoining building had opened only a week before the fire. [2] The club offered its patrons dining and dancing in a South Seas-like "tropical paradise" and a roof that could be rolled back in summer for dancing under the stars. [4] [2] The decor consisted of leatherette, rattan and bamboo coverings on the walls, heavy draperies, and "swanky" dark blue satin canopies and covering on ceilings. Support columns in the main dining area were made to look like palm trees, with light fixtures made to look like coconuts. That theme was carried over into the basement Melody Lounge, with what little light there was provided by palm tree light fixtures.

The "Grove" had become one of Boston's most popular nightspots, featuring a restaurant and dancing in the main area, floor shows, and piano-playing entertainers in the Melody Lounge. The restaurant was visited on occasion by movie and music stars, who would have their entry announced by the maître d'. Across from the main dining area was the "Caricature Bar", which featured renditions of the establishment's more prominent guests. The club had recently been expanded eastward with the new Broadway Lounge, which opened onto adjacent Broadway between Piedmont Street (south side) and Shawmut Street (north side). [ citation needed ]

Wall coverings and decorative materials had been approved on the basis of tests for ordinary ignition, which showed resistance to combustion from sources such as matches and cigarettes. Decorative cloth was purportedly treated with ammonium sulfate as a fire retardant upon installation, but there was no documentation that the fire retardant treatment was maintained at the required intervals. Since the US entry into the war, air-conditioning systems had been serviced and the freon refrigerant was replaced by a flammable gas called methyl chloride, due to the wartime shortage of freon. [ citation needed ]

On November 28, 1942, the Boston College football team played College of the Holy Cross at Fenway Park. In a great upset of that period, Holy Cross beat Boston College by a score of 55–12. College bowl game scouts had attended the game in order to offer Boston College a bid to the 1943 Sugar Bowl game. As a result of the rout, a Boston College celebration party scheduled for the Grove that evening was canceled. [5] Mayor Tobin, an enthusiastic Boston College fan, also canceled plans to go to the Cocoanut Grove that night. [6] Actor Arthur Blake, famous for his female impersonations, was one of the headlining acts at the Cocoanut Grove that night. [7]

It is estimated that, on that Saturday night, more than 1,000 Thanksgiving weekend revelers, wartime servicemen and their sweethearts, football fans, and others were crammed into a space rated for a maximum of 460 people. [ citation needed ]

Official reports state that the fire started at about 10:15 pm in the Melody Lounge. Goody Goodelle, a young pianist and singer, was performing on a revolving stage surrounded by artificial palm trees. The lounge was lit by low-powered light bulbs in coconut-styled sconces beneath the fronds. A young man, possibly a soldier, had unscrewed a light bulb in order to give himself and his date privacy while kissing. [4] Stanley Tomaszewski—a 16-year-old busboy—was instructed to put the light back on by tightening the bulb. He stepped up onto a chair to reach the light in the darkened corner. Unable to see the bulb, he lit a match to illuminate the area, tightened the bulb, and extinguished the match. Witnesses first saw flames in the fronds, which were just below the ceiling, immediately afterward. Though the lit match had been close to the same fronds where the fire was seen to have begun, the official report determined that Tomaszewski's actions could not be found to be the source of the fire, which "will be entered into the records of this department as being of unknown origin". [8]

Despite waiters' efforts to douse the fire with water, it spread along the fronds of the palm tree. In a final desperate attempt to separate the burning fronds from the fabric-covered false ceiling, the decoration was pulled away from the corner, taking with it a triangular plywood panel at the ceiling level and opening the enclosed space above the false ceiling. Coincidentally or not, that was the point at which the fire spread to the false ceiling which burned rapidly, showering patrons with sparks and burning shreds of fabric. Flames raced up the stairway to the main level, burning the hair of patrons fleeing up the stairs. A fireball burst through the front entryway and spread through the remaining club areas: through the adjacent Caricature Bar, down a corridor to the Broadway Lounge, and across the central restaurant and dance floor as the orchestra was beginning its evening show. Flames raced faster than patrons could move, followed by thick clouds of smoke. Within five minutes, flames and smoke had spread to the entire nightclub. Some patrons were instantly overcome by smoke as they sat in their seats. Others crawled through the smoky darkness trying to find exits, all but one of which were either non-functioning or hidden in non-public areas. [5]

Many patrons attempted to exit through the main entrance, the same way they had entered. The building's main entrance was a single revolving door, which was rendered useless as the crowd stampeded in panic. Bodies piled up behind both sides of the revolving door, jamming it until it broke. [9] The oxygen-hungry fire then leaped through the breach, incinerating whoever was left alive in the pile. Firemen had to douse the flames to approach the door. Later, after fire laws had tightened, it would become illegal to have only one revolving door as a main entrance without being flanked by outward opening doors with panic bar openers attached, or have the revolving doors set up so that the doors could fold against themselves in emergency situations. [10]

Other avenues of escape were similarly useless side doors had been bolted shut to prevent people from leaving without paying. A plate glass window, which could have been smashed for escape, was boarded up and unusable as an emergency exit. Other unlocked doors, like the ones in the Broadway Lounge, opened inwards, rendering them useless against the crush of people trying to escape. Fire officials would later testify that had the doors swung outwards, at least 300 lives could have been spared. [11]

From nearby bars, soldiers and sailors raced to assist. On the street, firefighters lugged out bodies and were treated for burned hands. As night deepened, the temperature dropped. Water on cobblestone pavements froze. Hoses froze to the ground. Newspaper trucks were appropriated as ambulances. Smoldering bodies, living and dead, were hosed in icy water. Some victims had breathed fumes so hot that when they inhaled cold air, as one firefighter put it, they dropped like stones. [4]

Later, during the cleanup of the building, firefighters found several dead guests sitting in their seats with drinks in their hands. They had been overcome so quickly by fire and toxic smoke that they had not had time to move. [6]

Boston newspapers were filled with lists of the dead and stories of narrow escapes and deaths. Well-known movie-cowboy actor Buck Jones was at the club that night, and his wife later explained that he had initially escaped then gone back into the burning building to find his agent, producer Scott R. Dunlap of Monogram Pictures. However, after the blaze, Jones was discovered slumped under his table severely burned, so some doubted accounts of his escape. Although rushed to hospital, Jones died of his injuries two days later. [12] Dunlap, who was hosting a party at the nightclub in honor of Jones, was seriously injured but survived.

Those in the employ of the establishment fared better in escaping than customers, owing to their familiarity with service areas, where the fire's effects were less severe than in the public areas, and which provided access to additional window and door exits. A double door opposite the public entryway to the main dining room was unlocked by wait staff and was soon the only functional outside exit from public areas. Although several members of the band, including musical director Bernie Fazioli, lost their lives, most of them escaped backstage and through a service door that they rammed open. Alpert escaped out of a basement window and was credited with leading several people to safety. Bassist Jack Lesberg went on to play music with Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Leonard Bernstein, and many others until shortly before his death in 2005. [13] A passage in an unpublished section of the autobiography of fellow bassist Charles Mingus, Beneath the Underdog, stated that Lesberg "made a door" during his escape. That statement has been interpreted literally, with the additional color of Lesberg using his bass to create a new opening in a wall, and in the context of the vernacular use of the term "made", which can mean attained or achieved. No witness statements refer to the use of Lesberg's bass as a battering ram or its presence anywhere along the escape route. [14] The legend lives on in hip-hop performance inspired by Mingus' unpublished writing.

Three bartenders, cashier Jeanette Lanzoni, entertainer Goody Goodelle, other employees and some patrons in the Melody Lounge escaped into the kitchen. Bartender Daniel Weiss survived by dousing a cloth napkin with a pitcher of water and breathing through it as he made his escape from the Melody Lounge. Those in the kitchen had escape routes through a window above a service bar and up a stairway to another window and a service door that was eventually rammed open. Five people survived by taking refuge in a walk-in refrigerator and a few more in an ice box. Rescuers reached the kitchen after about ten minutes.

Coast Guardsman Clifford Johnson went back inside the building no fewer than four times in search of his date who, unbeknownst to him, had safely escaped. Johnson suffered extensive third-degree burns over 55% of his body but survived the disaster, becoming the most severely burned person ever to survive his injuries at the time. After 21 months in a hospital and several hundred operations, he married his nurse and returned to his home state of Missouri. Fourteen years later he burned to death in a fiery automobile crash. [15]

An official report revealed that the Cocoanut Grove had been inspected by a captain in the Boston Fire Department just ten days before the fire and declared safe. [8] [2] Further, it was found that the Grove had not obtained any licenses for operation for several years there were no food handlers' permits and no liquor licenses. Stanley Tomaszewski, the busboy who had been accused of starting the fire, was underage and should not have been working there. Moreover, the recent remodeling of the Broadway Lounge had been done without building permits, using unlicensed contractors. [6]

Tomaszewski testified at the inquiry and was exonerated, as he was not responsible for the flammable decorations or the life safety code violations. He was nevertheless ostracized for much of his life because of the fire. [16] Tomaszewski died in 1994. [17]

The Boston Fire Department investigated possible causes of ignition, the rapid spread of the fire and the catastrophic loss of life. Its report reached no conclusion as to the initial cause of ignition, but attributed the rapid, gaseous spread of the fire to a buildup of carbon monoxide gas due to oxygen-deprived combustion in the enclosed space above the false ceiling of the Melody Lounge. The gas exuded from enclosed spaces as its temperature rose and ignited rapidly as it mixed with oxygen above the entryway, up the stairway to the main floor and along ceilings. The fire accelerated as the stairway created a thermal draft, and the high-temperature gas fire ignited pyroxylin (leatherette) wall and ceiling covering in the foyer, which in turn exuded flammable gas. The report also documented the fire safety code violations, flammable materials and door designs that contributed to the large loss of life. [8]

During the 1990s, former Boston firefighter and researcher Charles Kenney discovered that a highly flammable gas refrigerant, methyl chloride, had been used as a substitute for freon, which was in short wartime supply. [18] Kenney reported that floor plans, but not the fire investigation report, showed air-conditioning condenser units near street level on the other side of a non-structural wall from the Melody Lounge, and that these units had been serviced since the start of the war. Kenney also reported that photographic evidence indicates an origin for the fire in the wall behind the palm tree and suggested ignition of methyl chloride accelerant by an electrical failure caused by substandard wiring. [19] Methyl chloride combustion is consistent with some aspects of the fire (reported flame colors, smell and inhalation symptoms) but requires additional explanation for ceiling-level fire as the gas is 1.7 times as dense as air. [20]

In 2012, the Boston Police Department released the transcripts of witness interviews following the fire, which are posted online. [14] Witnesses Tomaszewski, Morris Levy, Joyce Spector, David Frechtling and Jeanette Lanzoni (Volume 1) provided accounts of the ignition of the palm decoration and ceiling in the Melody Lounge. Frechtling and Lanzoni described the start of the fire as a "flash." Tomaszewski described the spread of the fire across the ceiling as like a gasoline fire. The flame front across the ceiling was faint blue, followed by brighter flames. Witness Roland Sousa (Volume 2) stated that he was initially unconcerned about the fire because, as a regular customer of the Melody Lounge, he had seen the palm tree decorations ignite before and they were always quickly put out.

Barney Welansky, whose connections had allowed the nightclub to operate while in violation of the loose standards of the day, was convicted on nineteen counts of manslaughter (nineteen victims were randomly selected to represent the dead). He was sentenced to 12–15 years in prison in 1943. [21] Welansky served nearly four years before being quietly pardoned by Tobin, who had been elected governor of Massachusetts since the fire. In December 1946, ravaged with cancer, Welansky was released from Norfolk Prison, telling reporters, "I wish I'd died with the others in the fire." Nine weeks later, he died. [4]

In the year that followed the fire, Massachusetts and other states enacted laws for public establishments banning flammable decorations and inward-swinging exit doors, and requiring exit signs to be visible at all times (meaning that the exit signs had to have independent sources of electricity, and be easily readable in even the thickest smoke). [9] The new laws also required that revolving doors used for egress must either be flanked by at least one normal, outward-swinging door, or retrofitted to permit the individual door leaves to fold flat to permit free-flowing traffic in a panic situation, and further required that no emergency exits be chained or bolted shut in such a way as to bar escape through the doors during a panic or emergency situation. [8] Jack Thomas of the Boston Globe wrote in his front page 50-anniversary article that "The Licensing Board ruled that no Boston establishment could call itself the Cocoanut Grove." [4] There has never been another Cocoanut Grove in Boston. [4] [10]

Commissions were established by several states that would levy heavy fines or even shut down establishments for infractions of any of these laws. These later became the basis for several federal fire laws and code restrictions placed on nightclubs, theaters, banks, public buildings, and restaurants across the nation. It also led to the formation of several national organizations dedicated to fire safety. [9]

MGH and Boston City Hospital (BCH) received the majority (83%) of the victims from the fire [22] other Boston area hospitals received a total of about thirty patients: Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Beth Israel Hospital, Cambridge City Hospital, Kenmore Hospital, Faulkner Hospital, St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Malden Hospital, Massachusetts Memorial Hospital, Carney Hospital, and St. Margaret's Hospital. [9] MGH took 114 burn and smoke inhalation victims, and BCH received over 300. [6] It was estimated that one casualty arrived at BCH every eleven seconds, [15] the greatest influx of patients to any civilian hospital in history. [23] Both hospitals were unusually well-prepared, as medical facilities all along the eastern seaboard had drawn up emergency plans in preparation for attacks against the U.S. coast. Boston had carried out a city-wide drill only a week earlier, simulating a Luftwaffe bombing assault, with over 300 mock casualties. [9] At MGH, a special store of emergency supplies had been stockpiled. The fire caught both hospitals at change of shift, so that a double complement of nursing and support staff was available, in addition to volunteers who flocked to the hospitals as word spread of the disaster. [6]

Nonetheless, most patients died en route to the hospitals or shortly after arrival. Because no standardized system for triage yet existed in civilian mass casualty management in the U.S., [24] [25] precious minutes were initially wasted in attempts to revive those who were dead or dying, until teams were dispatched to select the living for treatment and direct the dead to be taken to temporary mortuaries. [26] By Sunday morning, November 29, only 132 patients out of the 300 transported to BCH were still alive, whereas at MGH, 75 of the 114 victims had died, leaving 39 surviving patients in treatment. [22] [6] Of a total of 444 burn victims hospitalized after the fire, only 130 survived.

One of the first administrative decisions made at MGH was to clear the general surgery ward on the sixth floor of the White Building and devote it entirely to victims of the fire. [9] All victims were housed there strict medical isolation was maintained, and a part of the ward was set aside for dressing changes and wound care. Teams of nurses and orderlies were organized for administration of morphine, wound care, and respiratory treatments. [6]

The aftermath of the fire saw the first major use of MGH's new blood bank, one of the area's first, established in April 1942 and stocked with 200 units of dried plasma as part of its preparations for the war. [27] A total of 147 units of plasma were used in treating 29 patients at MGH. At BCH, where the Office of Civilian Defense had stored 500 units of plasma for wartime use, 98 patients received a total of 693 units of plasma, which included plasma donated by the US Navy, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and the American Red Cross. [22] The volume of plasma used in treating the victims of the Cocoanut Grove surpassed that used during the attack on Pearl Harbor. [28] In the days following the fire, twelve hundred people donated over 3,800 units of blood to the blood bank. [9] [22]

Most survivors were discharged by the end of 1942 however, a few patients required months of intensive care. In April 1943, the last survivor from MGH was discharged. At BCH, the last casualty, a woman from Dorchester, died in May, after five months of treatment for severe burns and internal injuries. Hospitals rendering service chose not to charge any of the patients for treatment. The American Red Cross provided financial aid to both the public and private hospitals. This was especially helpful to Boston City Hospital, given its enormous influx of patients. [9]

Advances in the care of burn victims Edit

The fire led to new ways of caring for both burns and smoke inhalation. [29] The team at BCH was directed by Dr. Charles Lund as senior surgeon and Dr. Newton Browder. In 1944, Lund and Browder, drawing upon their experiences in treating Cocoanut Grove victims, would publish the most widely cited paper in modern burn care, "Estimation of the Areas of Burns", in which a diagram for estimating burn size would be presented. This diagram, called the Lund and Browder chart, remains in use throughout the world today. [30] [31]

Fluid therapy Edit

Surgeons Francis Daniels Moore and Oliver Cope at MGH pioneered fluid resuscitation techniques for the burn victims, noting that the majority of patients suffered from severe hemorrhagic tracheobronchitis due to "prolonged inhalation of the very hot air and fumes which presumably contained many toxic products. and, in addition, numerous hot particles of fine carbon or similar substances." [26] At the time, infusions of saline alone were thought to "wash out" plasma proteins and increase the risk of pulmonary edema. Accordingly, patients at MGH were given a solution of equal parts of plasma and saline solution, based on the extent of their cutaneous burns, while at BCH, patients with respiratory injuries were given fluids as needed. Careful evaluations showed no evidence of pulmonary edema, and Finland's studies at BCH concluded that "the fluids seemed to produce obvious improvement in most instances without any apparent adverse effect on the respiratory system." [28] This experience stimulated further studies of burn shock, leading, in 1947, to publication by Cope and Moore of the first comprehensive formula for fluid therapy based on a calculation of the total surface area of burn wounds and the volume of urine and liquids that had been wrung out of patients’ bedsheets. [32] [31]

Burn care Edit

The standard surface burn treatment in use at the time was the so-called "tanning process" involving the application of a solution of tannic acid, which created a leathery scab over the wound that protected against the invasion of bacteria and prevented the loss of bodily fluids. [33] This was a time-consuming process that subjected the patient to agonizing pain because of the scrubbing procedure required before the application of the chemical dyes. [34]

At MGH, burns were treated with a new technique pioneered by Cope himself and refined by Bradford Cannon: soft gauze covered with petroleum jelly and boric acid ointment. [22] [35] [29] Patients were kept on a closed ward and meticulous sterile technique was used in all patient care activities. A month later, at BCH, 40 of the initial 132 survivors had died, mostly from complications from their burns at MGH, none of the 39 initial survivors died from their burns (7 died from other causes [9] ). As a result, the use of tannic acid as a treatment for burns was phased out as the standard. [31] [36]

Antibiotics Edit

At MGH, intravenous sulfadiazine (a new drug which had only been approved for use in the US in August, 1941 [37] ) was given to all patients as part of their initial treatment. At BCH, 76 patients received sulfonamides for an average of 11 days. [38] Thirteen survivors of the fire were also among the first humans to be treated with the new antibiotic, penicillin. [31] [22] In early December Merck and Company rushed a 32-liter supply of the drug, in the form of culture liquid in which the Penicillium mold had been grown, from Rahway, New Jersey to Boston. These patients received 5,000 IU (roughly 2.99 mg) every 4 hours, a relatively tiny dose by today's standards, but at the time antibiotic resistance was rare and most strains of Staphylococcus aureus were penicillin-sensitive. [39] The drug was crucial in preventing infections in skin grafts. According to the British Medical Journal:

Though bacteriological studies showed that most of the burns were infected, the second-degree burns healed without clinical evidence of infection and with minimal scarring. The deep burns remained unusually free of invasive infection. [40]

As a result of the success of penicillin in preventing infections, the US government decided to support the production and the distribution of penicillin to the armed forces. [39]

Psychological trauma Edit

Erich Lindemann, an MGH psychiatrist, studied the families and relatives of the dead and published what has become a classic paper, "Symptomatology and Management of Acute Grief", [41] [35] read at the Centenary Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in May 1944, and published in September of the same year.

At the same time Lindemann was laying the foundation for the study of grief and dysfunctional grieving, Alexandra Adler conducted psychiatric observations and questionnaires over eleven months with more than 500 survivors of the fire, publishing some of the earliest research on post-traumatic stress disorder. More than half of the survivors exhibited symptoms of general nervousness and anxiety which lasted at least three months. Survivors who lost consciousness for a short period of time during the incident exhibited the most post-traumatic mental complications. [42] Adler noted that 54% of survivors treated at BCH and 44% of those at MGH exhibited "post-traumatic neuroses", and that a majority of the survivors' friends and family members showed signs of "emotional upset that attained proportions of a major psychiatric condition and needed trained intervention." [43] Adler also discovered one survivor with a lasting brain lesion who presented symptoms of visual agnosia, most likely caused by exposure to carbon monoxide fumes, other noxious gases and/or a lack of sufficient oxygen. [44]

After the Cocoanut Grove complex was torn down in 1944, the street map of the vicinity changed due to urban renewal, with nearby streets being renamed or built over.

The nightclub address was 17 Piedmont Street, in the Bay Village neighborhood near downtown Boston. For decades after the fire, this address was used as a parking lot. Much of the club's former footprint, including what was the main entrance, now lies under the Revere Hotel only a portion of the club extended out to Shawmut Street. The surviving section of Shawmut Street, and a newer extension cutting through what was the club's original footprint, formerly known as Shawmut Street Extension, were renamed Cocoanut Grove Lane in 2013. [45] In 2015, several condominium residences were constructed on the site, and designated as 25 Piedmont Street. [46]

In 1993, the Bay Village Neighborhood Association installed a memorial plaque in the sidewalk—crafted by Anthony P. Marra, youngest survivor of the Cocoanut Grove fire—next to the location where the club formerly stood:

In memory of the more than 490 people who died in the Cocoanut Grove fire on November 28, 1942. As a result of that terrible tragedy, major changes were made in the fire codes, and improvements in the treatment of burn victims, not only in Boston but across the nation. "Phoenix out of the Ashes"

In 2013, a short street running through the former site of the Cocoanut Grove, and previously named "Shawmut Extension", was renamed "Cocoanut Grove Lane". [45]

The plaque has been moved several times, to some controversy. [46] [47] [48] A committee has been formed to build a more substantial memorial. [49]

The Cocoanut Grove fire was the second-deadliest single-building fire in American history only the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago had a higher death toll, of 602. It was only two years after the Rhythm Club fire which had killed 209. [50]


Fire on riverboat leaves more than 1,000 dead - HISTORY

Today I found out about the Tunguska Event, which was a 1908 explosion estimated to have been nearly 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 and about 1/3 as powerful as the largest ever detonated atomic bomb, the Tsar Bomba.

The Tunguska event occurred around 7:00 a.m. local time on June 30, 1908 near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia. Witnesses saw a “blue-ish light, nearly as bright as the Sun, moving across the sky.” What followed was an estimated 15 megaton explosion which knocked over about 80 million trees in about a 1300 square mile area, forming a butterfly shape pattern. This also sent a shock wave throughout parts of Europe and Asia, registering as far away as England (about 4000 miles away). Further, the atmospheric pressure change was also significant enough to be measured all the way in Great Britain. Another interesting side effect of this blast was that, for several days after the blast throughout most of Asia and Europe, the night sky glowed. It was so bright that people as far away as China reportedly were able to read in the middle of the night by nothing but the glow of the sky.

For a firsthand account, here is the testimony of one S. Semenov, who was about 40 miles from ground zero:

“At breakfast time I was sitting by the house at Vanavara Trading Post (65 km from the epicenter), facing north… I suddenly saw that directly to the north, over Onkoul’s Tunguska Road, the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest. The split in the sky grew larger, and the entire northern side was covered with fire. At that moment, I became so hot that I couldn’t bear it, as if my shirt was on fire from the northern side, where the fire was, came strong heat. I wanted to tear off my shirt and throw it down, but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few meters. I lost my senses for a moment, but then my wife ran out and led me to the house. After that such noise came, as if rocks were falling or cannons were firing, the earth shook, and when I was on the ground, I pressed my head down, fearing rocks would smash it. When the sky opened up, hot wind raced between the houses, like from cannons, which left traces in the ground like pathways, and it damaged some crops. Later we saw that many windows were shattered, and in the barn a part of the iron lock snapped.”

So what caused this massive blast? For a long time, it wasn’t precisely known. When the event first happened, it drew little interest largely because it happened in a very remote part of the world. It wasn’t until some 19 years later that Leonid Kulik, a Russian mineralogist, decided to go investigate, figuring that a massive meteorite must have hit the Earth.

Kulik and his team had little trouble locating ground zero of the blast, despite it being 19 years later, due to the fact that the “trees acted as markers, pointing directly away from the blast’s epicenter”. However, once they got to the epicenter, they found a curious thing. There was no crater, as they had expected, and the trees were still standing in about a 3 mile radius circle at the center, but with their limbs, bark, leaves, etc. all completely stripped. So essentially, all these trees were just giant poles in the ground with all the other trees for miles and miles around blasted to the ground.

For a long time, there was much debate over exactly what caused this, but today scientists are reasonably certain it was a comet, rather than an asteroid (see the difference between a comet and an asteroid) or other naturally occurring event. The comet must have been around 30-40 meters across (around 120 feet) and must have been traveling around 30,000-40,000 mph (about 55,000-65,000 km/h). As it traveled through the atmosphere, the air around it heated up to as much as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 28,000 degrees Celsius) causing the comet to look like a giant fireball streaking through the sky. Eventually, this also caused the comet to annihilate itself around 5 miles (8 km) above the Earth’s surface in a fiery blast that consumed the comet, which was largely made of ice. Thus, you get a massive explosion, but no impact crater or much of any apparent evidence of what caused the explosion, unless you witness it or start taking very careful soil samples and the like.


The Aftermath

For days afterward, bodies would wash ashore. Only 321 passengers survived from a total of 1,358 passengers. The final death count totaled 1,021. The next largest death toll in the United States would come decades later with 2,974 dead from 9/11.

There would be miracle stories of survivors for the lucky few and heartbreak for those who lost loved ones. It was widely reported that Captain William Henry Van Schaick would not bring the ship to shore for insurance reasons. Instead, Van Schaick steered the burning ship to North Brother Island. Van Schaick would testify that gas tanks and lumber yards made landing near 130th Street, close to the Bronx, dangerous.


The Children Who Went Up In Smoke

Billboard about the Sodder children, who went missing on Christmas Eve, 1945. From www.appalachianhistory.net.

For nearly four decades, anyone driving down Route 16 near Fayetteville, West Virginia, could see a billboard bearing the grainy images of five children, all dark-haired and solemn-eyed, their names and ages—Maurice, 14 Martha 12 Louis, 9 Jennie, 8 Betty, 5—stenciled beneath, along with speculation about what happened to them. Fayetteville was and is a small town, with a main street that doesn’t run longer than a hundred yards, and rumors always played a larger role in the case than evidence no one even agreed on whether the children were dead or alive. What everyone knew for certain was this: On the night before Christmas 1945, George and Jennie Sodder and nine of their 10 children went to sleep (one son was away in the Army). Around 1 a.m., a fire broke out. George and Jennie and four of their children escaped, but the other five were never seen again.

George had tried to save them, breaking a window to re-enter the house, slicing a swath of skin from his arm. He could see nothing through the smoke and fire, which had swept through all of the downstairs rooms: living and dining room, kitchen, office, and his and Jennie’s bedroom. He took frantic stock of what he knew: 2-year-old Sylvia, whose crib was in their bedroom, was safe outside, as was 17-year-old Marion and two sons, 23-year-old John and 16-year-old George Jr., who had fled the upstairs bedroom they shared, singeing their hair on the way out. He figured Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie and Betty still had to be up there, cowering in two bedrooms on either end of the hallway, separated by a staircase that was now engulfed in flames.

He raced back outside, hoping to reach them through the upstairs windows, but the ladder he always kept propped against the house was strangely missing. An idea struck: He would drive one of his two coal trucks up to the house and climb atop it to reach the windows. But even though they’d functioned perfectly the day before, neither would start now. He ransacked his mind for another option. He tried to scoop water from a rain barrel but found it frozen solid. Five of his children were stuck somewhere inside those great, whipping ropes of smoke. He didn’t notice that his arm was slick with blood, that his voice hurt from screaming their names.

His daughter Marion sprinted to a neighbor’s home to call the Fayetteville Fire Department but couldn’t get any operator response. A neighbor who saw the blaze made a call from a nearby tavern, but again no operator responded. Exasperated, the neighbor drove into town and tracked down Fire Chief F.J. Morris, who initiated Fayetteville’s version of a fire alarm: a “phone tree” system whereby one firefighter phoned another, who phoned another. The fire department was only two and a half miles away but the crew didn’t arrive until 8 a.m., by which point the Sodders’ home had been reduced to a smoking pile of ash.

George and Jeannie assumed that five of their children were dead, but a brief search of the grounds on Christmas Day turned up no trace of remains. Chief Morris suggested that the blaze had been hot enough to completely cremate the bodies. A state police inspector combed the rubble and attributed the fire to faulty wiring. George covered the basement with five feet of dirt, intending to preserve the site as a memorial. The coroner’s office issued five death certificates just before the new year, attributing the causes to “fire or suffocation.”

But the Sodders had begun to wonder if their children were still alive.

The missing Sodder children. From left: Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie, Betty. Courtesy of www.mywvhome.com.

George Sodder was born Giorgio Soddu in Tula, Sardinia in 1895, and immigrated to the United States in 1908, when he was 13. An older brother who had accompanied him to Ellis Island immediately returned to Italy, leaving George on his own. He found work on the Pennsylvania railroads, carrying water and supplies to the laborers, and after a few years moved to Smithers, West Virginia. Smart and ambitious, he first worked as a driver and then launched his own trucking company, hauling dirt for construction and later freight and coal. One day he walked into a local store called the Music Box and met the owners’ daughter, Jennie Cipriani, who had come over from Italy when she was 3.

They married and had 10 children between 1923 and 1943, and settled in Fayetteville, West Virginia, an Appalachian town with a small but active Italian immigrant community. The Sodders were, said one county magistrate, “one of the most respected middle-class families around.” George held strong opinions about everything from business to current events and politics, but was, for some reason, reticent to talk about his youth. He never explained what had happened back in Italy to make him want to leave.

The Sodders planted flowers across the space where their house had stood and began to stitch together a series of odd moments leading up to the fire. There was a stranger who appeared at the home a few months earlier, back in the fall, asking about hauling work. He meandered to the back of the house, pointed to two separate fuse boxes, and said, “This is going to cause a fire someday.” Strange, George thought, especially since he had just had the wiring checked by the local power company, which pronounced it in fine condition. Around the same time, another man tried to sell the family life insurance and became irate when George declined. “Your goddamn house is going up in smoke,” he warned, “and your children are going to be destroyed. You are going to be paid for the dirty remarks you have been making about Mussolini.” George was indeed outspoken about his dislike for the Italian dictator, occasionally engaging in heated arguments with other members of Fayetteville’s Italian community, and at the time didn’t take the man’s threats seriously. The older Sodder sons also recalled something peculiar: Just before Christmas, they noticed a man parked along U.S. Highway 21, intently watching the younger kids as they came home from school.

Around 12:30 Christmas morning, after the children had opened a few presents and everyone had gone to sleep, the shrill ring of the telephone broke the quiet. Jennie rushed to answer it. An unfamiliar female voice asked for an unfamiliar name. There was raucous laughter and glasses clinking in the background. Jennie said, “You have the wrong number,” and hung up. Tiptoeing back to bed, she noticed that all of the downstairs lights were still on and the curtains open. The front door was unlocked. She saw Marion asleep on the sofa in the living room and assumed that the other kids were upstairs in bed. She turned out the lights, closed the curtains, locked the door and returned to her room. She had just begun to doze when she heard one sharp, loud bang on the roof, and then a rolling noise. An hour later she was roused once again, this time by heavy smoke curling into her room.

Jennie Sodder holding John, her first child. Courtesy of Jennie Henthorn.

Jennie couldn’t understand how five children could perish in a fire and leave no bones, no flesh, nothing. She conducted a private experiment, burning animal bones—chicken bones, beef joints, pork chop bones—to see if the fire consumed them. Each time she was left with a heap of charred bones. She knew that remnants of various household appliances had been found in the burned-out basement, still identifiable. An employee at a crematorium informed her that bones remain after bodies are burned for two hours at 2,000 degrees. Their house was destroyed in 45 minutes.

The collection of odd moments grew. A telephone repair man told the Sodders that their lines appeared to have been cut, not burned. They realized that if the fire had been electrical—the result of “faulty wiring,” as the official reported stated—then the power would have been dead, so how to explain the lighted downstairs rooms? A witness came forward claiming he saw a man at the fire scene taking a block and tackle used for removing car engines could he be the reason George’s trucks refused to start? One day, while the family was visiting the site, Sylvia found a hard rubber object in the yard. Jennie recalled hearing the hard thud on the roof, the rolling sound. George concluded it was a napalm “pineapple bomb” of the type used in warfare.

Then came the reports of sightings. A woman claimed to have seen the missing children peering from a passing car while the fire was in progress. A woman operating a tourist stop between Fayetteville and Charleston, some 50 miles west, said she saw the children the morning after the fire. “I served them breakfast,” she told police. “There was a car with Florida license plates at the tourist court, too.” A woman at a Charleston hotel saw the children’s photos in a newspaper and said she had seen four of the five a week after the fire. “The children were accompanied by two women and two men, all of Italian extraction,” she said in a statement. “I do not remember the exact date. However, the entire party did register at the hotel and stayed in a large room with several beds. They registered about midnight. I tried to talk to the children in a friendly manner, but the men appeared hostile and refused to allow me to talk to these children…. One of the men looked at me in a hostile manner he turned around and began talking rapidly in Italian. Immediately, the whole party stopped talking to me. I sensed that I was being frozen out and so I said nothing more. They left early the next morning.”

In 1947, George and Jennie sent a letter about the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and received a reply from J. Edgar Hoover: “Although I would like to be of service, the matter related appears to be of local character and does not come within the investigative jurisdiction of this bureau.” Hoover’s agents said they would assist if they could get permission from the local authorities, but the Fayetteville police and fire departments declined the offer.

Next the Sodders turned to a private investigator named C.C. Tinsley, who discovered that the insurance salesman who had threatened George was a member of the coroner’s jury that deemed the fire accidental. He also heard a curious story from a Fayetteville minister about F.J. Morris, the fire chief. Although Morris had claimed no remains were found, he supposedly confided that he’d discovered “a heart” in the ashes. He hid it inside a dynamite box and buried it at the scene.

Tinsley persuaded Morris to show them the spot. Together they dug up the box and took it straight to a local funeral director, who poked and prodded the “heart” and concluded it was beef liver, untouched by the fire. Soon afterward, the Sodders heard rumors that the fire chief had told others that the contents of the box had not been found in the fire at all, that he had buried the beef liver in the rubble in the hope that finding any remains would placate the family enough to stop the investigation.

Over the next few years the tips and leads continued to come. George saw a newspaper photo of schoolchildren in New York City and was convinced that one of them was his daughter Betty. He drove to Manhattan in search of the child, but her parents refused to speak to him. In August 1949, the Sodders decided to mount a new search at the fire scene and brought in a Washington, D.C. pathologist named Oscar B. Hunter. The excavation was thorough, uncovering several small objects: damaged coins, a partly burned dictionary and several shards of vertebrae. Hunter sent the bones to the Smithsonian Institution, which issued the following report:

The human bones consist of four lumbar vertebrae belonging to one individual. Since the transverse recesses are fused, the age of this individual at death should have been 16 or 17 years. The top limit of age should be about 22 since the centra, which normally fuse at 23, are still unfused. On this basis, the bones show greater skeletal maturation than one would expect for a 14-year-old boy (the oldest missing Sodder child). It is however possible, although not probable, for a boy 14 ½ years old to show 16-17 maturation.

The vertebrae showed no evidence that they had been exposed to fire, the report said, and “it is very strange that no other bones were found in the allegedly careful evacuation of the basement of the house.” Noting that the house reportedly burned for only about half an hour or so, it said that “one would expect to find the full skeletons of the five children, rather than only four vertebrae.” The bones, the report concluded, were most likely in the supply of dirt George used to fill in the basement to create the memorial for his children.

Flyer about the Sodder children. Courtesy of Jennie Henthorn.

The Smithsonian report prompted two hearings at the Capitol in Charleston, after which Governor Okey L. Patterson and State Police Superintendent W.E. Burchett told the Sodders their search was “hopeless” and declared the case closed. Undeterred, George and Jennie erected the billboard along Route 16 and passed out flyers offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of their children. They soon increased the amount to $10,000. A letter arrived from a woman in St. Louis saying the oldest girl, Martha, was in a convent there. Another tip came from Texas, where a patron in a bar overheard an incriminating conversation about a long-ago Christmas Eve fire in West Virginia. Someone in Florida claimed the children were staying with a distant relative of Jennie’s. George traveled the country to investigate each lead, always returning home without any answers.

In 1968, more than 20 years after the fire, Jennie went to get the mail and found an envelope addressed only to her. It was postmarked in Kentucky but had no return address. Inside was a photo of a man in his mid-20s. On its flip side a cryptic handwritten note read: “Louis Sodder. I love brother Frankie. Ilil Boys. A90132 or 35.” She and George couldn’t deny the resemblance to their Louis, who was 9 at the time of the fire. Beyond the obvious similarities—dark curly hair, dark brown eyes—they had the same straight, strong nose, the same upward tilt of the left eyebrow. Once again they hired a private detective and sent him to Kentucky. They never heard from him again.

Alleged photo of an older Louis Sodder. Courtesy of Jennie Henthorn.

The Sodders feared that if they published the letter or the name of the town on the postmark they might harm their son. Instead, they amended the billboard to include the updated image of Louis and hung an enlarged version over the fireplace. “Time is running out for us,” George said in an interview. “But we only want to know. If they did die in the fire, we want to be convinced. Otherwise, we want to know what happened to them.”

He died a year later, in 1968, still hoping for a break in the case. Jennie erected a fence around her property and began adding rooms to her home, building layer after layer between her and the outside. Since the fire she had worn black exclusively, as a sign of mourning, and continued to do so until her own death in 1989. The billboard finally came down. Her children and grandchildren continued the investigation and came up with theories of their own: The local mafia had tried to recruit him and he declined. They tried to extort money from him and he refused. The children were kidnapped by someone they knew—someone who burst into the unlocked front door, told them about the fire, and offered to take them someplace safe. They might not have survived the night. If they had, and if they lived for decades—if it really was Louis in that photograph—they failed to contact their parents only because they wanted to protect them.

The youngest and last surviving Sodder child, Sylvia, is now 69, and doesn’t believe her siblings perished in the fire. When time permits, she visits crime sleuthing websites and engages with people still interested in her family’s mystery. Her very first memories are of that night in 1945, when she was 2 years old. She will never forget the sight of her father bleeding or the terrible symphony of everyone’s screams, and she is no closer now to understanding why.

Sources:
Books:
Michael Newton, The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes. New York: Facts on File, 2004 Melody Bragg and George Bragg, West Virginia Unsolved Murders & Infamous Crimes. Glen Jean, WV: GEM Publications, 1993 One Room Schoolin’, A Living History of Central West Virginia. Hickory, NC: Hometown Memories Publishing, 2011.

Articles:
“Missing or Dead?” Greensboro News and Record, November 18, 1984 “Hope of Life in 󈧱 Fire Still Burns, Boston Daily Record, December 24, 1960 “The Children Who Went Up in Smoke,” Inside Detective, February 1968.

Other:
Interview with Jennie Henthorn, granddaughter of George and Jennie Sodder and daughter of Sylvia Sodder Paxton Smithsonian pathologist report supplied by Jennie Henthorn informal statement of Marion Sodder, supplied by Jennie Henthorn.


Bangladesh Dhaka building collapse leaves 87 dead

Firefighters and army personnel are leading the operation to rescue those caught beneath the debris in Savar.

More than 1,000 people were injured. One official put the death toll at 127.

Cracks had been found in the building prior to the collapse, but owners told workers not to worry.

Building collapses are common in Bangladesh. Speaking at the scene, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir said the building had violated construction codes and "the culprits would be punished".

Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, providing competitively priced clothes for major Western retailers which benefit from its widespread low-cost labour.

Tessel Pauli, a spokeswoman for the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, said activists at the scene had identified labels from European and US high-street brands.

"Immediate relief and long-term compensation must be provided by the brands who were sourcing from these factories, and responsibility taken for their lack of action to prevent this happening," she said in a statement to the BBC.

Primark, a clothes retailer with a large presence in Britain, confirmed that one of its suppliers was on the second floor of the Rana Plaza. It said it was "shocked and deeply saddened by the appalling incident" and that it would work with other retailers to review standards.

The Rana Plaza building contained several clothing factories, a bank and a market.

It collapsed at about 09:00 local time (03:00 GMT), during the morning rush hour.

It is not yet clear what caused the collapse, but local media reports said severe cracks were detected in the block on Tuesday.

One man rescued from the building told the BBC that factory owners had told workers on Wednesday morning "not to worry" and that "they said they had examined the crack".

Police told local media that the rear of the building had suddenly started to collapse on Wednesday morning, and within a short time the whole structure - except the main pillar and parts of the front wall - had caved-in, triggering panic.

An eyewitness described the moment of the building's collapse: "It became completely dark on this side. There was a lot of dust from the collapsing debris, so we ran downstairs. When we came out we saw the whole building collapsed."

Only the ground floor of the building remained intact after the collapse, officials said.

Sohel Rana, a local who rescued several people, told Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star that he had heard cries for help coming from under the rubble.

The scene looked like a "war zone", Dhaka resident Tahsin Mahmoo told the BBC, adding that appeals had been put out for citizens to donate blood.

Hundreds of people, anxious for news of friends and relatives, have gathered at the scene. Others are moving rubble using their bare hands.

"Already we've rescued three to four hundred people. Now we are cutting through the concrete walls and trying to get inside with the help of sniffer dogs," fire brigade chief Ali Ahmed Khan told the BBC Bengali service.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced a national day of mourning on Thursday in memory of the victims.

In November, a fire at a garment factory in a Dhaka suburb drew international attention to working conditions in Bangladesh's textile industry.

At least 110 people died, triggering a public outcry about safety standards.

Western retail chains that buy from factories in Bangladesh urged factory owners to improve safety standards.

The last major building collapse was in 2010, when a four-storey building in Dhaka caved in, killing at least 25 people and injuring several others.

In 2005, there was a building collapse near the site of Wednesday's incident, killing 64 people.


Dragons (10 sayings)

Dragons are found in many aspects of Chinese culture, including sayings. Chinese dragons are seen as lucky and good — quite different to dragons in most Western stories.

1. 龙飞凤舞。 (Lóng fēi fèn gwǔ. 'dragon flies phoenix dances') — The dragon flies and the phoenix dances.

It refers to a flamboyant style of calligraphy, and writing devoid of content.

2. 龙马精神。 (Lóng mǎ jīngshén. 'dragon horse spirit') — A dragon's and a horse's spirit.

It refers to a vigorous spirit in old age.

3. 鱼龙混杂。(Yú lóng hùnzá. 'fish dragons muddle mix') — A muddled mix of fish and dragons.

It refers to crooks mixed in with honest folk.

4. 龙腾虎跃。 (Lóng téng hǔ yuè. 'dragon soars tiger leaps') — Dragons soaring and tigers leaping.

It refers to a scene of bustling activity.

5. 车水马龙。 (Chē shuǐ mǎ long. 'carriage water horse dragon') — Carriages like a stream and horses like a dragon.

It refers to a scene of heavy traffic (Chinese dragons have very long bodies).

6. 龙潭虎穴。 (Lóng tán hǔ xué. 'dragon pool tiger cave') — A dragon's pool and a tiger's den.

It refers to a very dangerous spot.

7. 画龙点睛。 (Huàlóngdiǎnjīng. 'paint dragon dot eye') — Paint a dragon and dot the eye.

It refers to adding the vital finishing touch the crucial point that brings the subject to life.

8. 叶公好龙。 (Yè Gōng hào long.) — Lord Ye loves dragons.

It refers to someone who pretends to like something that he really fears.

9. 鲤鱼跳龙门。 (Lǐyú tiào lóng mén. 'carp jump dragon gate') — A carp has jumped the dragon's gate.

It refers to someone who has successfully passed the civil service examination.

10. 强龙难压地头蛇。 (Qiáng lóng nán yā dìtóu shé. 'strong dragon difficult suppress local snake') — Even a dragon struggles to control a snake in its native haunt.

This means: powerful outsiders can hardly afford to neglect local villains.


California wildfires death toll climbs to 87, almost 500 still unaccounted for

The Camp Fire is the deadliest, and most destructive in California's history.

79 dead in California's Camp Fire

Hundreds of people remain missing in the wake of a pair of deadly wildfires that have been burning across both ends of California.

The two monstrous blazes, which both ignited earlier this month, have claimed at least 87 lives while laying waste to a total area of nearly 400 square miles, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Officials said that the remains of at least 54 people have been positively identified so far.

The vast majority of the deaths -- 84 in total -- were due to the Camp Fire in Northern California's Butte County, making it the deadliest and most destructive wildland fire in the state's history.

The number of people missing or unaccounted for in Butte County was down to 475 on Friday evening after having reached 605 on Thursday, according to the Butte County Sheriff's Office. The number is expected to continue fluctuating as officials account for residents.

"We haven't taken the day off," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said in a video message on Thanksgiving Day.

There were 820 people in the field continuing search and rescue efforts on Thursday, as well as over 100 law enforcement officers protecting the areas that have been evacuated due to the Camp Fire, according to Honea.

A multiagency task force, at the request of the Butte County Sheriff's Office, has captured detailed aerial imagery maps of damaged properties in most of the burn areas in the town of Paradise, as well as video surveys and 360-degree drone panoramas of all major roads in the area, according to the sheriff's office.

Officials hope the maps will provide valuable information to the search and recovery teams on the ground, multiple agencies coordinating response and to the residents of the community impacted by the Camp Fire.

"This has been a tough situation for all of us," Honea said in his video message Thursday. "We're in this together. We are Butte County strong."

Firefighters have made significant progress in containing both wildfires in recent days, and much-needed rain doused the scorched areas Friday. However, heavy rain did bring new dangers to the burn scar areas in the form of flash floods and mudslides.

The National Weather Service had issued a flash flood watch for the burn areas in Northern California.

Here is more about the fires that have been devastating Northern and Southern California.

The Camp Fire in Northern California

The Camp Fire ignited Nov. 8 near Pulga, a tiny community in Butte County nestled in the Plumas National Forest. The blaze exploded as strong winds fanned the flames southwest, enveloping Paradise, a bucolic community of 27,000 people in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The fire has virtually decimated the entire town.

Melissa Schuster, a Paradise town council member, said her house was among those leveled by the Camp Fire.

"Our entire five-member council is homeless," Schuster said in a Nov. 13 interview on ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. "All of our houses have been destroyed."

The death toll from the Camp Fire increased to 84 on Thursday, after officials found still more bodies in the burned-out rubble of homes and melted cars, according to the Butte County Sheriff's Office, which has warned that the remains of some of the missing may never be recovered due to the severity of the fire.

Thom Porter, chief of strategic planning for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the body count is expected to climb higher as search crews continue sifting through the destruction.

"It is by far the most deadly single fire in California history and it's going to get worse, unfortunately," Porter has said of the Camp Fire.

Many of the deaths have ocurred in Paradise.

"The entire community of Paradise is a toxic wasteland right now," Schuster said om Nov. 13, holding back tears. "In addition to that, and this is the hardest part for me to even talk about, the number of fatalities is [among] things that we don't know at this moment and that's something that has to be determined before people can move back in."

The Camp Fire, which has scorched a total of 153,336 acres in Butte County, was 95 percent contained Thursday night as thousands of exhausted firefighters worked around the clock to quell the inferno, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

More than 18,600 structures have been destroyed by the blaze.

Two prison inmate firefighters were among a total of three firefighters who have been injured while battling the Camp Fire, officials told ABC News.

Last week, Gov. Brown toured the devastation caused by the Camp Fire along with Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

"This is one of the worst disasters I've ever seen in my career, hands down," Long told reporters at the scene Nov. 14.

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California

The Woolsey Fire also ignited Nov. 8 near the city of Simi Valley in Ventura County and rapidly spread south to Los Angeles County. The wind-driven flames jumped the 101 Freeway before sweeping through the celebrity enclaves of Malibu and Calabasas.

The entire city of Malibu and a sprawling naval base near the seaside city of Oxnard were among the areas under mandatory evacuation orders, as officials warned the blaze could potentially spread all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Evacuation orders have since been lifted for some areas, including parts of Malibu, as firefighters successfully stretched containment levels.

The Woolsey Fire, which torched a total of 96,949 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, was fully contained by Wednesday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In all, 1,500 structures were destroyed and another 341 have been damaged.

The blaze burned down a portion of Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills known as “Western Town,” where hundreds of movies and television shows, including HBO’s "Westworld," have been filmed, dating back to the 1920s.

The Woolsey Fire has been blamed for the deaths of at least three people, and three firefighters sustained injuries while battling the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A public health emergency

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has declared a public health emergency in California, where the wildfires forced the evacuation of at least two hospitals and eight other health facilities.

"We are working closely with state health authorities and monitoring the needs of healthcare facilities to provide whatever they may need to save lives and protect health," Azar said in a Nov. 14 statement. "This declaration will help ensure that Americans who are threatened by these dangerous wildfires and who rely on Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have continuous access to the care they need."

The smoke from the flames descended across the Golden State and choked the air in major cities.

Smoke advisories were issued for the affected region amid concerns that smoke from the fires could present a "significant health threat" for people with asthma and other lung conditions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Residents were advised to stay indoors as much as possible and to wear a protective mask when venturing outside.

Berkeley Earth, a California-based nonprofit that analyzes air quality in real-time, ranked San Francisco, Stockton and Sacramento as the world's three "most polluted cities" on Nov. 16.

Meanwhile, there has been an outbreak of norovirus at a shelter in Butte County housing evacuees, according to Lisa Almaguer, public information officer for Butte County Public Health.

People who are ill at the shelter have been taken to a separate location, are using separate restroom facilities and are being cared for by public health experts, according to Almaguer, who said the presence of the contagious virus is "not uncommon," especially at this time of year and "with hundreds of people living in close quarters."

President Trump tours unprecedented devastation

President Donald Trump arrived in California on Nov. 17 to survey the scene of surreal devastation and meet with firefighters, alongside California Gov. Jerry Brown and the state's governor-elect, Gavin Newsom.

The president stopped first in the town of Paradise, where he called the damage "total devastation."

"We've never seen anything like this in California, we've never seen anything like this yet. It's like total devastation," Trump told reporters. "I think people have to see this really to understand it."

The president later visited Malibu to tour the destruction from the Woolsey Fire.

Trump pledged federal assistance to California following his visit, just days after he threatened to withhold funds from the state due to what he described as "gross mismanagement of forests."

ABC News' Karine Hafuta, Marilyn Heck, Julia Jacobo and Bonnie McLean contributed to this report


At least 10 dead, 1,500 structures lost in Northern California firestorm, among worst in state’s history

Widespread destruction at Hidden Valley neighborhood in Santa Rosa.

At least 10 people have died and at least 1,500 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed as more than 14 fires ravaged eight counties throughout Northern California on Monday, authorities said.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office reported seven fire-related deaths late Monday. In addition, two died because of the Atlas fire in Napa County, said a CalFire spokesperson. One person died as result of the Redwood Valley fire in Mendocino County.

In Sonoma County, the dead were found “in the hot spots” of the fire, an official said.

“We are a resilient county we will come back from this,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “But right now we need to grieve.”

An inmate firefighter monitors flames as a house burns in the Napa wine region.

(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

Flames ravage a home in the Napa wine region in California.

(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

A firefighter walks near a pool as a neighboring home burns in the Napa wine region.

(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters douse flames as a home burns in the Napa wine region, as multiple wind-driven fires whip through the region.

(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

A Cazadero firefighter struggles to protect a home from catching fire in Coffey Park in Santa Rosa, Calif.

(Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

Louis Reavis views the burned remains of his classic Oldsmobile at his home in Napa.

(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

A tent structure built for the 2017 Safeway Open burns in Napa on Monday.

(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

The Estancia Apartment Homes on Old Redwood Hwy. were completely destroyed in Santa Rosa.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A resident rushes to save his home as a wildfire moves through Glen Ellen, Calif. Tens of thousands of acres and dozens of homes and businesses have burned in wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties.

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

A Fountaingrove Village man surveys the rubble of his home in Santa Rosa.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Downed power poles and lines block a street in Hidden Valley.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

A fcar burns in the driveway of a destroyed home in Fountaingrove Village.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A wheelchair left abandoned at the evacuated Villa Capri assisted living facility on Fountaingrove Parkway in Santa Rosa.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

A resident rushes to save his home as fire moves through the area in Glen Ellen, California.

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

A San Jose firefighter keep flames down at a home in Hidden Valley.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A Fountaingrove Village couple takes in the ruins of their home after fire ripped through the neighborhood.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A home destroyed in the fast moving wildfire that ripped through Glen Ellen.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A swimming pool reflects the damage caused by the wildfires that moved through neighborhoods near Glen Ellen.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Benicia Police Officer Alejandro Maravilla, left, offers resident Gwen Adkins, 84, a soda while patrolling in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

An aerial view of Journey End’s Mobile home park, along the 101 freeway, destroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa.

Spencer Blackwell, left, and Danielle Tate find Tate’s father’s gun collection, melted and burned, inside a gun safe at her father’s home in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

An American flag is draped on a burned pickup truck on Camino del Prado in the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

Scorched wine barrels at the Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa after the wildfire burned through.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Fire lights up the night sky framed by a vineyard near Kenwood.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Chloe Hoskins, 7, wearing a bandanna to protect herself from the smoke and ash, checks on a neighbor’s burned-out property with her father in the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa.

Oakland police officers knock on doors as residents of the Rancho de Calistoga mobile home park are told to evacuate in Calistoga.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

An aerial view of the Coffey Park neighborhood detroyed by wildfire in Santa Rosa.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )

Contra Costa paramedics help Bill Parras, 96, evacuate his home in Calistoga.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times )

CHP officers study neighborhood maps before going door to door to tell Sonoma residents to voluntarily evacuate ahead of the wildfire.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

A home perched on top of a hill sits in the foreground of a fire moving up on Shiloh Ridge near Santa Rosa.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )

Scorched grapes and vines along the edge of Storybook Mountain Vineyards in Calistoga.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

John and Jan Pascoe survived the firestorm by running out of their home and into their neighbors’ swimming pool in Santa Rosa.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Hundreds of burned wine bottles at the destroyed Helena View Johnston Vineyards near Calistoga.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A Contra Costa County firefighter breaks a wall with an ax as his crew battles flames inside a home along Highway 29 north of Calistoga on Oct. 12.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Atascadero Firefighters try to control flames burning inside a home along Highway 29 in Calistoga on Oct. 12.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Contra Costa firefighters work to put out flames burning inside a home along Highway 29 north of Calistoga on Oct. 12.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Search teams sift through the debris of mobile homes at the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )

A worker pulls out a firearm from the burned wreckage as search team members look through the debris at the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Search team members sift through debris at the Journey’s End Mobile Home Park in Santa Rosa.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey surveys the damage to the Coffey Park neighborhood.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )

Melted metal is seen on a car in the shadow of a destroyed home in Napa.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Lola Cornish, 50, and her daughter Kat Corazza, 18, look over recovered family jewels that survived the fire at Cornish’s grandfather’s home in Napa.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Some residents were allowed to return to their properties Friday in a neighborhood in Napa that was ravaged by the Atlas fire.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire that threatens the Oakmont community along Highway 12 in Santa Rosa.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A helicopter drops water on a fire that threatens the Ledson Winery and Historic Castle Vineyards in Kenwood on Friday.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Manuel Mendoza sorts through donated clothing at the Bridge Church in Santa Rosa on Sunday.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Jean Schettler hugs Father Moses Brown after Mass at St. Rose Church on Sunday. Schettler’s daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, after losing their house in the fires, have moved into the Santa Rosa home of Jean and Jim Schettler.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Gianna Gathman, 18, hugs her grandfather Jim Schettler during Mass at St. Rose Church in Santa Rosa on Sunday. Gathman’s family lost their home in the Fountaingrove neighborhood to the fire. They are now living with the Schettlers.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Kimberly Flinn holds onto the only item that wasn’t lost in a fire that destroyed her home in the Mark West Springs area in Santa Rosa. Flynn recovered a ceramic white butterfly that she had made in memory of a boy she used to babysit and was killed in a hit and run accident.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Gerry Miller, 81, tells San Francisco Police Department Officer Gary Loo how grateful she is to find her home still standing. Residents were allowed to return to their homes in the Mark West Springs area in Santa Rosa Sunday night.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Denise Finitz, 61, thanks Torrance Fire Department firefighters Keith Picket, right, and Capt. Mike Salcido on Oct. 16 after they helped her find her mother’s wedding ring in the ashes of her home, destroyed by wildfires on Carriage Lane in Wikiup.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A search and rescue crew member gives a cadaver dog some water during the hunt for a possible fire victim in the Mark West Springs area of Santa Rosa on Oct. 15.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Burned cars like this vintage Volkswagen litter the landscape in Coffey Park. The neighborhood was completely destroyed by the Tubbs fire 11 days ago, with many residents fleeing in haste as their homes were enveloped in flames.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A giraffe framed in the smoke filled air at the Safari West preserve.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

A Watusi bull looks out through the haze of the recent Tubbs fire at the Safari West preserve.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Peter Lang, 77, owner of the Safari West preserve, stands between a pair of white rhinos against a backdrop of charred hillside in Santa Rosa.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Mark Sharp, a resident of Coffey Park, sifts through the remains of his charred home in search of his wife’s wedding band.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Flowers were left on the mailbox of Roy Howard Bowman, 87, and his wife, Irma Elsie Bowman, 88 who died at their Fisher Lake Drive home from the Redwood Valley fire.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Dee Pallesen, left, and her daughter Emily Learn console each as they look over Pallesen’s home, destroyed by the Redwood Valley fire.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Jason Miller plants an American flag on the charred remains of his house as residents of Coffey Park return home.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Burned vehicles litter the landscape in Coffey Park. The neighborhood was completely destroyed by the Tubbs fire 11 days ago, with many residents fleeing in haste as their homes were enveloped in flames.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A pickup truck rests beside a row of charred trees in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The vast devastation over just a few hours made this firestorm one of the worst in California history, with Gov. Jerry Brown declaring a state of emergency. Officials said the fires in Northern California have scorched 73,000 acres.

Local hospitals were treating those injured while others are unaccounted for, officials said. Additional fatalities were possible as search efforts continued.

One of the raging fires had Santa Rosa under siege Monday morning, with a large swath of the city north of downtown under an evacuation order.

The area of Fountaingrove appeared to be particularly hard hit, with photos showing numerous homes on fire. The Fountaingrove Inn, a Hilton hotel and a high school also burned. Officials said homes were also lost in the community of Kenwood and at a mobile home park off the 101 Freeway.

Coffey Park, a large Santa Rosa subdivision of dozens of homes, was burned to the ground.

“It’s fair to say it’s been destroyed,” Cal Fire director Ken Pimlott said of Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood.

“Late last night starting around 10 o’clock you had 50 to 60 mph winds that surfaced — really across the whole northern half of the state,” he said. “Every spark is going to ignite.”

Northern California has seen its share of horrific wildfires — the state’s second-deadliest is the October 1991 Tunnel fire in the Oakland Hills, in which 25 people died. The Tunnel also ranks as the most destructive, charring 2,900 buildings.

But the combination of high winds, dried-up vegetation and low humidity driving flames into neighborhoods is more typical of Southern California.

“This is exactly what you would expect in the Southern California fall fire season,” Pimlott said.

Despite a wet winter, he said vegetation still hasn’t recovered from California’s punishing drought, and at the end of the summer dry season, was ready to burn.

Firefighters are hopeful the winds will calm Monday afternoon. But red flag weather conditions will persist into Tuesday.

The city of Santa Rosa imposed a curfew starting at 6:45 p.m. Monday until sunrise Tuesday to prevent looting of empty homes in the evacuation zone, said acting Santa Rosa police chief Craig Schwartz.

“We have had a number of reports in the evacuation zone and the fire zone of people driving around and suspicious behavior,” Schwartz said.

While many evacuation centers were set up, some were filled to capacity due to the large number of people fleeing.

The Tubbs fire near Santa Rosa has burned more than 35,000 acres as of 6:40 a.m., Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said during a televised news conference Monday morning. Officials said the other large fire in Napa County — Atlas Peak — has reached 25,000 acres.

Schools throughout the Napa and Sonoma valleys were closed for the day, and cellphone service has been affected in Napa County, where residents and businesses are experiencing power outages and trees have been knocked down by the wind, officials said.

More than 50 structures, including homes and barns, have burned in the Atlas Peak fire alone, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said during the news conference.

Residents described running from the approaching flames early in the morning.

Late Sunday night, Ken Moholt-Siebert noticed the smell of the smoke from his Santa Rosa vineyard just off Highway 101.

It was not until midnight that he spotted the flames: a small red glow growing a couple of ridges to the east, off Fountaingrove Parkway.

He ran up the hill on his property to turn on a water pump to protect the ranch his family has been raising sheep and growing grapes on for four generations.

Before the pump could get the water fully flowing, a small ember from the Tubbs fire landed nearby. With the wind picking up, the ember sparked a spot fire about 50 feet in diameter. Then it was 100 feet in diameter.

“There was no wind, then there would be a rush of wind and it would stop. Then there would be another gust from a different direction,” Moholt-Siebert, 51, said. “The flames wrapped around us.”

“I was just being pelted with all this smoke and embers,” he said. “It was just really fast.”

Moholt-Siebert retreated through a 150-year-old redwood barn on his property — where his son’s wedding reception had been held in June. He jumped a fence back toward his house and fell to the ground to catch gulps of less smoke-contaminated air before reaching his home.

As he fled with his wife Melissa in their Ford sedans, the flames reached their vineyard full of Pinot Noir grapes and crept toward a 200-year-old oak tree on the property — the namesake for the family winery, Ancient Oak Cellars.

As he drove through falling embers and smoke he thought about what he left behind. The sheep on his ranch, he thought, would be safe since they were on shortly cut wet grass. He left behind family mementos and furniture from his grandparents.

The property was dotted with old valley and black oak as well as some California ash trees.

“That is probably all gone,” Moholt-Siebert said. “I have a feeling there is not going to be much left.”

Smoke from the fires drifted into the Bay Area, into San Francisco and as far south as San Jose.

Widespread destruction at Hidden Valley neighborhood in Santa Rosa.

“The smell of smoke is everywhere throughout the county,” Napa County spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said.

In Santa Rosa, Kaiser Permanente Hospital and Sutter Hospital were evacuated.

“We have safely evacuated the Santa Rosa medical center due to fires burning in the area. Many patients were transported to Kaiser Permanente in San Rafael and other local hospitals,” Kaiser spokeswoman Jenny Mack said in an email. “All scheduled appointments and surgeries have been canceled for the day in Santa Rosa and the Napa medical offices.”

The Santa Rosa fire began around 10 p.m. The cause of the fires is still under investigation.

Upward of 300 firefighters are battling the blazes in Napa County, she said. There are three evacuation centers for Napa County residents, though one — the Crosswalk Community Church — is full, she said. The other two are the Calistoga Fairgrounds and at Napa Valley College.

Those who evacuated described a chaotic scene.

Around 2 a.m., the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuations around Kay Drive and Mark West Station Road in Windsor. Jen Ancic, 31, fled with her two young sons and boyfriend.

As the family drove north on U.S. Highway 101, Ancic said she could see buildings and trees burning.

“The whole town was on fire,” she said. “It was crazy.”

A Santa Rosa native, Ancic said that fires in the mountains are not uncommon, but “nothing like this has happened in Santa Rosa.”

She was devastated to learn from online news reports that Coffey Park, where she’d played as a child and had recently held a recent birthday party for her son, had burned. “There’s nothing left,” Ancic said.

Weather conditions — strong winds and high temperatures — made conditions ripe for a major inferno.

“We also had really gusty winds and really warm temperatures,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Mehle. “This time of year it does happen quite a bit. For the San Francisco Bay Area, our summer is late September to early October that’s when we have our warmest and driest conditions.”

Fires in Northern an Southern Calif. create widespread damage, destroying homes and claiming live

The destructiveness of the fires shocked officials. The worst fire in recent California history was the Cedar blaze in San Diego County in 2003, which destroyed more than 2,800 homes. The 2007 Witch fire, also in San Diego County, destroyed more than 1,600. Both of those fires occurred in October.

“This time of year is when historically the state’s largest, most damaging and most deadly fires have occurred,” Upton said. “Critical fire conditions fanned by high winds” act as “a fuse for sparks,” she said.

A key reason why the fires burning through Napa and Sonoma counties became so devastating was that the ignitions happened at the worst possible moment: extremely dry conditions combined with so-called Diablo winds that fanned flames on the ridgetops with gusts as high as 70 mph.

It’s similar to the conditions that caused one of the most destructive blazes in Northern California history, the October 1991 firestorm that struck the Oakland and Berkeley hills that killed 25 people and destroyed more than 3,300 single-family homes.

The wine country fires so far haven’t approached that level of catastrophe, with officials reporting at least 1,500 structures lost, in part because the area burned isn’t as densely populated as the area that was hit hard in 1991.

Staffers at Safari West, a wildlife preserve in Santa Rosa, fled the property Sunday night, but some employees returned Monday afternoon to find the fire “basically jumped over” the preserve Sunday night.

“There are still a lot of fires all around so the situation is very dynamic at the moment,” Safari West executive director Keo Hornbostel wrote in an email.

The 400-acre property is known for its rhinos, giraffes, zebras and other animals. Guests also can stay in tents on site.

Marie Martinez, conservation and outreach manager at Safari West, said that staff and guests left the facility Sunday night, with staffers taking some birds and a tortoise with them.Erin Harrison, director of marketing and communications at Oakland Zoo, said the zoo is willing to coordinate evacuation of the Safari West animals if needed.

Willon reported from Santa Rosa, St. John from Napa.

Los Angeles Times staff writers Nina Agrawal in Santa Rosa, Makeda Easter, Rong-Gong Lin II, Joy Resmovits, Javier Panzar, Dakota Smith, Bettina Boxall and Geoffrey Mohan contributed to this report.